Tuesday, May 10, 2016

brightness fell from the air

Considering a millennial's Reader Comment (at Becoming Minimalist) yesterday, where he said people in his generation should create emergency funds and early retirement savings so they don't spend the inevitable *next* Recession in even worse shape..."

I sometimes have wondered 2 things --

1.  Why is there always "*another*" Recession, and

2.  Why is it, there's always some expert saying "the economy" is "bad."  No matter what year it is, no matter what's going on...it seems like there's always someone saying the economy is "bad," frowning tersely and saying in the airy, eerie, die-away Something-Does-Not-Bode-Well voice, "Eehhh -- in this economy... err-rr -- I don-know..."

--------------- (There's a sort of throw-away joke moment on Friends in Season 9

when Joey Tribbiani, in trying to explain how he knew about something, casts about hurriedly in his imagination and then blurts, "And -- the economy is bad," like, just for something -- anything -- to say....So -- the "Friends" writers must have noticed this phenomenon, too...)


In The Brazen Age, author David Reid writes about the advent of the Great Depression:

----------------------- [excerpt] --------------------- After October 1929 brightness fell from the air.  It began to seem that the whole gaudy spectacle had been illusory all the while, a "splendid mirage," as Fitzgerald wrote.

The Wall Street crash seemed an appropriate conclusion for a spree that had gone on for too long.

The speculative frenzies that Wall Street had sponsored in the twenties were widely blamed for the miseries of the Depression....Abroad when the stock market crashed, the Fitzgeralds returned to New York in 1931 to find that the deepening Depression had reduced the scene of their former revels to an "echoing tomb."

---------------------------- [excerpt 2] -------------------- Murray Kempton has noted how those touting the thirties were determined to destroy the myth of the twenties.  They condemned their predecessors for frivolity and selfishness, a fundamental unseriousness. 

Nowhere perhaps was the reaction swifter or more severe than in New York City.  Among the city's artists and intellectuals, including some who had glittered in the twenties, "reckless provincialism" was an objectionable and unaffordable luxury.  Yesterday's disdain for politics was discarded as ruthlessly as the vogue of the flapper.

Fitzgerald took to reading Marx.  And as for the once overweening pretensions of business, Edmund Wilson wrote, "One couldn't help being exhilarated at the sudden, unexpected collapse of the stupid gigantic fraud.  It gave us a new sense of freedom; and it gave us a new sense of power."

By the winter of 1930, it was plain that the Hoover administration was hopeless in the face of the great slump, and for an interval between that general realization and the renewal of hope by the coming of the New Deal, a mood of defeatism and foreboding seized the city....

But to radicals of the younger generation it seemed that living in the new dark ages concentrated the mind wonderfully.  "I have never recovered from the thirties or wanted to," one of the most brilliant, the literary critic Alfred Kazin,

would write many decades later.  "Bliss it was in that dawn to be a literary radical (mostly literary)." 

The cafeteria at City College resounded with the disputes of his radical contemporaries:  "Socialists who were Norman Thomas Socialists, old-line social Democrats, Austro-Marxists; Communists who were Stalinist centrists, Trotskyite leftists, Lovestoneite right-wingers, Musteites and Fieldites; Zionists who were Progressive Labor Zionists, left socialist Zionists and Religious Zionists." 

No doubt he could have extended the inventory; the distant echoes of this ideological Babel are still audible today.


{excerpts from The Brazen Age, by David Reid.  Copyright 2016, Pantheon, Penguin Random House}


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